Columbia Star

1963        Celebrating 60 Years      2023

Under the Tuscan Spell— The American Cemetery of Florence

Originally published August 19, 2005

On our way from Florence to the wine country of Chianti, we stopped at the American Cemetery and Memorial 7.5 miles south of Florence.

This is one of 26 cemeteries overseas honoring fallen American soldiers, eight from WWI, 28 from WWII. There are two in Italy, the other in Nettuno.

They are maintained by the American Battle Monuments Commission and financed by the American taxpayer.

Those buried in this cemetery fell between June 4, 1944, following the capture of Rome, and May 2, 1945, when Italy was liberated. During this time the Allies pursued the retreating enemy northward. Leghorn fell on July 18, Pisa on July 23, and Florence on August 4.

The forces camped for the winter outside of Bologna. In April, 1945, the offensive continued and Bologna fell April 21. Milan was captured April 29, then soon after Genoa fell, the enemy troops surrendered.

The 4,402 servicemen and women interred in the cemetery represent 39 percent of the temporary burials made between Rome and the Alps. The cemetery and memorial were completed in 1959 and opened to the public.

The memorial consists of two atria and a chapel. A tablet recognizes those missing in battle, and a large map on the wall shows movements during the war.

A plaque facing a fountain reads: They faced the foe as they drew near him in the stretch of their own manhood and when the shock of battle came they in a moment of time at the climax of their lives were rapt away from a world filled for their dying eyes not with terror but with glory…( Pericles’ Praise of the Dead)

It is frightening to realize how close Hitler and the Nazis came to controlling the world. If it hadn’t been for the resistance of the Brits, the endurance of the Russians, and the mobilization of the Americans, totalitarianism might be the rule of the day.

As I walked among the graves I thought about the lives it took to stop a tyrant. Those young men and women died in a foreign land fighting for freedom and liberty, their lives lost forever.

Benjamin Franklin said, “There has never been a good war or a bad peace.” After a very bad World War II, the winners designed a peace that led to a Cold War. I wonder what Franklin would have said then.

Throughout history there have been leaders who led their people into war. Some were good leaders; some were bad leaders. When the soldier takes up arms and dies fighting for a cause he doesn’t understand, that is the sorrow of any war.

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